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Baltic States

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The Baltic states is a term which usually refers to three countries bordering the Baltic Sea:

Prior to World War II Finland was often considered as the fourth Baltic state. For example, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact included Finland as one of the Baltic States. Nowadays Finland is one of the Nordic countries.

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Geography

They are often considered belonging to Eastern Europe due to five decades of Soviet occupation following the second world war. But they have been influenced mainly by Sweden, Denmark and Germany. Culturally and geographically they belong to Northern Europe. A compromise terminology for the Baltic States is Northeastern Europe.

The term Baltic states differs from the term Baltic sea countries which refers to the countries bordering the Baltic.

History

The common history of the Baltic States starts when the Sword Brethren brought Christianity and feudalism to the region. After that these countries have been a battlefield of Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Russia and Germany.

In the 18th century the Baltic States were a part of the Russian Empire. The Baltic States gained their indepedence in the aftermath of World War I. In the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact the Nazi Germany allowed the Soviet Union to annex the Baltic States. A short period of Soviet occupation was followed by the German invasion. After World War II the Baltic States were annexed again by the Soviet Union.

Politics

Following a period of occupation by Soviet forces which lasted from the end of the second world war until the collapse of the Soviet union in 1991, the three Baltic states declared their independence in 1989 and 1990. Instead of declaring themselves as new states they are in fact a re-establishment of the pre-war republics that had existed between the first and second world wars. This further emphasized the statement that Soviet domination during the Cold war period as an illegal occupation. The Baltic states are today liberal democracies (parliamentary republics) with quickly growing market economies.

The Baltic states did in 2002 achieve the opportunity to realize a long standing political goal, integration with Western Europe. The main political objective since their independence from the Soviet Union, more than a decade ago has been to gain rights of membership to both the European Union and NATO. Membership in the EU is scheduled for May 2004 pending the outcome of the referendums to be held in the candidate countries.

Culture

Although the three nations have much in common in their history and culture they belong to two distinct language families.

Due to a long period of Germanic domination, starting in middle ages, a large part of the old generation still speak German as a second language. The Baltic states has historically also been under Swedish and Russian spheres of influence. Following the period of Soviet domination, ethnic Russians today make up a sizable minority in the Baltic states.

See also: Tourism in the Baltics

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